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Reshuffle 2023: The ministerial shifts UK tech needs to know about

Tech reshuffle
Picture by Rory Arnold / No 10 Downing Street

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reshuffled his cabinet, spurred on by intense pressure against the former home secretary, Suella Braverman, who was sacked after she wrote an unauthorised opinion piece bashing the Metropolitan Police for their handling of protests.

The unexpected return of David Cameron to government may have taken centre stage, but there has also been a significant shift in the ministers directly responsible for tech policy.

UKTN has put together a rundown of the job moves in the cabinet reshuffle that the tech industry needs to know about.

Out: George Freeman – Minister for science, research and innovation

First appointed as a science and tech minister in October 2022, Freeman resigned this week amid the reshuffle. Freeman said in his letter of resignation from the tech-focussed role that the decision was to give him time to focus on his “health, family wellbeing and life beyond the front bench”.

Freeman has held five ministerial roles under four different prime ministers including stints as the minister of state for the future of transport and the minister for life science, digital health and agritech.

During his time as a science minister, Freeman oversaw government investments into areas such as quantum computing and space tech. Freeman also supported diplomatic efforts to collaborate with international tech industries, including a £1.7m collaborative tech project with Israel agreed in September. 

Out: Paul Scully – Minister for tech and the digital economy

Scully, who was appointed as a tech minister in October 2022, was sacked by the prime minister on Tuesday, losing both his role in the tech department and his position as minister for London within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

During his time at the tech department, Scully supported the development of the Online Safety Act, which became law in October; the semiconductor strategy; the AI White Paper and co-chaired the Digital Skills Council. The council’s goal was to support new tech businesses, particularly in promising but underserved regions such as Leeds, Newcastle and Birmingham.

In: Andrew Griffith – Minister of state in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

As the former economic secretary to the Treasury, Griffith has already become well acquainted with the UK’s fintech scene, currently the most valuable British tech sector.

During his year and change in the role, Griffith often spoke of his ambitions to support the British crypto industry and was a key figure in the early stages of the development of the UK’s own sterling-backed cryptoasset, commonly referred to as the “digital pound”.

Griffith also played a key role in the passing of the Financial Services and Markets Act, which enhanced the ability of regulators to police digital currencies.

Griffith was also involved with the planning of regulation for the buy now pay later (BNPL) industry, saying in February that “clear protections” provided by the proposed regulations were important to protect consumers accessing affordable credit.

Despite Griffith’s work to establish the proposed regulations, it was reported in July that the Treasury was considering backtracking to avoid market retaliation, prompting Griffith’s then-opposition equivalent Tulip Siddiq to write a letter to him demanding stronger action.

Griffith’s work at the Treasury – which came after a career in finance at firms like Rothschild & Co and PwC – has given him plenty of experience with fintech. The reshuffle, however, gives him a much broader remit across the whole of UK tech.

In: Saqib Bhatti – Parliamentary under secretary of State in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

The latest entrant to the leadership team of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), Bhatti will be replacing Scully as the minister responsible for digital strategy.

An accountant by trade, the West Midlands native became the president of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce in 2018, before being elected MP for Meriden in 2019. Bhatti has served as the vice chairman of the Conservative Party for Business since September 2022.

Bhatti has in the past called for a ban on fossil fuel car sales as a way of supporting the burgeoning UK electric vehicle industry. The Walsall-born MP has also made a name for himself as hard-line Eurosceptic, having founded the pro-Brexit group Muslims for Britain. 

In: Bim Afolami – economic secretary to the Treasury

Replacing Griffith as economic secretary to the Treasury, Afolami will assume the now-tech minister’s previous responsibilities to the fintech and crypto sectors. Afolami’s appointment suggests the Treasury appears to still be keen on crypto – despite industry setbacks in the form of scandals, crime and hesitance from mainstream banks.

The MP for Hitchin and Harpenden doesn’t have the clearest track record within the tech industry. However, Afolami did meet with executives from Coinbase last year to discuss financial opportunities and potential regulation with the crypto giant.

A spokesperson for the blockchain trade body CryptoUK said the group looks forward to working with Afolami “as the UK government continues to deliver on its ambitions of cementing the UK as a leading global hub for cryptoassets and blockchain technology”.

Remain: Michelle Donelan – secretary of state for science, innovation and technology 

As it stands, Donelan has retained her position as the UK’s tech secretary, providing some continuity to the department.

She was appointed as digital and culture secretary in September 2022 at DSIT’s predecessor, DCMS. When Sunak created a new science and tech-focused department in February 2023, Donlean was selected to spearhead it and has remained in the position, barring a short period of maternity leave.

Donelan was front and centre at the AI Safety Summit, and is currently in the US meeting business leaders and giving speeches about the UK’s Online Safety Act and artificial intelligence regulations.